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House Appropriations Committee approves funding for Stars and Stripes in 2021

Stars and Stripes rolls off the press in Moerfelden-Walldorf, Germany, in 2006.

MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2020

WASHINGTON — The 2021 defense spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee provides Stars and Stripes about $15.5 million in federal funding in the new fiscal year, which the Pentagon proposed cutting from its budget.

The draft of the fiscal year 2021 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which must be passed annually to authorize funding for the Pentagon, would provide the same amount of funding for the news organization as it received in fiscal year 2020. The $694.6 billion bill was approved by the Democrat-controlled appropriations committee on July 14 by a 30-22 vote, largely along party lines.

It marked the second version approved in recent weeks by a key House committee to restore funding for Stars and Stripes after the Pentagon in February moved to end the annual stipend for the newspaper. The House Armed Services Committee on July 2 unanimously passed its version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the about $15.5 million for Stripes.

Like the appropriations version, the NDAA must be passed yearly and authorizes the Pentagon’s use of its funding and sets policy priorities for the Defense Department. The full House was expected to vote Tuesday on its version of the 2021 NDAA.

The version of the 2021 NDAA under consideration by the full Senate does not include any funding for Stars and Stripes in fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1. The upper chamber on Tuesday was continuing floor debate on that bill, and it is expected to vote on the key legislation before breaking for its August recess.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to consider its version of the 2021 defense spending bill, and it has not scheduled hearings to do so.

Stars and Stripes produces daily newspapers and the news website stripes.com free of editorial oversight from the Pentagon. It uses its annual stipend largely to print and distribute newspapers to troops across the globe and fund reporting efforts in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those funds account for about half of the newspaper’s annual spending. The remainder of its funding comes from sales, subscriptions and advertising.

The Pentagon moved to strip funding for Stripes after Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered a defense-wide review of spending practices in an effort to reallocate funds to prepare the military to fight a major near-peer rival, such as China or Russia. Esper defended the funding cut for the newspaper in February, telling reporters in Brussels that the money would go to “higher-priority issues.”

Stars and Stripes first appeared during the Civil War, and it has been continuously published since World War II. It produces daily newspapers for U.S. military troops across the world and stripes.com, which is updated with news 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Though it is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, Stripes retains its editorial independence and is congressionally mandated to be governed by First Amendment principles.

Even as the Pentagon has said it only wants to reinvest the money traditionally provided to fund Stars and Stripes, some lawmakers, including Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., have accused DOD leaders of having ulterior motives in seeking to strip the money.

"It's such a small number in comparison to the whole budget, it’s less than a rounding error,” Gallego, a Marine veteran who fought in Iraq, said this month. “This has nothing to do with budgets. This has to do with the DOD not liking investigative journalism. If not for [Stripes], Congress might not know about some of these important issues. I think they believe this is the one time to get rid of Stars and Stripes.”

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has also pledged to support Stars and Stripes’ funding. He told Fox News that the organization helps hold the military accountable.

“These are reporters that report the facts. Sometimes the facts are a little bit uncomfortable,” Boozman, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in an interview that aired July 1. “It’s another way of accountability. We all need accountability.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC